Archbishop, if we keep accepting refugees to Trinidad and Tobago how are we going to cope when we have so many poor people with no jobs already in Trinidad and Tobago?
A pastoral challenge
We are facing an unprecedented number of migrants and refugees coming into Trinidad and Tobago and we need to be generous. And, I know the fear: ‘These people, are going to take our jobs and somehow impact our lifestyle.’ Here we need to hold the principle of the common good which stems from the dignity, unity and equality of all people—and of the whole person—the citizen and the refugee.
The burning question is what quota of refugees can we reasonably accept and still maintain the common good. This depends on our capacity to welcome, protect and integrate those who arrive. It also depends on being able to screen out those who will bring social disruption. This is the current debate.
Insofar as migrants and refugees are here, we need to attend to them ensuring they are documented and receiving care. This cannot be left to one individual or group, we all must respond! We all have a responsibility to be hospitable and to share. I am asking you, religious congregations, communities, parishes and parishioners, to open your hearts to assist the strangers amongst us. I am asking, in every parish, for a few people to volunteer and be appointed to a migrant and refugee ministry for the welcoming, protecting, promoting and integration of migrants and refugees.
The first task of this group is to read and reflect on Pope Francis’ message for the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2018. Then, we will arrange formation to assist you in your ministry. This is a sacred work that is dear to the heart of our Holy Father, to me and I dare say to Jesus Christ who was a refugee. If your parish has no migrants or refugees, you can support other parishes in your vicariate.
Over our history there have been mass migrations of Venezuelans to Trinidad several times. Each time we accepted them. Each time many remained after the troubles in Venezuela were over. They have contributed significantly to the social and economic development of our nation.
Bridget Brereton, in her book Race Relations in Colonial Trinidad 1870–1900, says: Some of them (the Venezuelans) left the mainland for political reasons, finding Trinidad a convenient refuge from the revolutionary warfare which raged from 1810. The refugees spoke French as well as Spanish, for some Frenchmen had fled the West Indies for the Main, only to re-emigrate to Trinidad. A much larger immigration was of ‘peons’—labourers and backwoodsmen of mixed Spanish-Amerindian-African descent who came all through the century in search of jobs and land. The peons, and the more prosperous Venezuelan immigrants, formed a considerable Spanish-speaking community in many parts of the island, reinforcing the dwindling numbers of indigenous Hispanised Amerindians.
The cocoa industry in Trinidad was built on the backs of the peons. This was a significant part of the booming economy in the late 1800s. Refugees do not come to take from us. They come to contribute and to build and to become part of us bringing their contribution and gifts.
“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Ex 22:21). There are no Trinidadians or Tobagonians whose ancestors have not come from somewhere else. We have all arrived from somewhere, as Black Stalin famously said: “One race (de Caribbean man)/ From de same place (de Caribbean man)/ Dat make de same trip (de Caribbean man)/ On de same ship (de Caribbean man)”.
To reject the stranger now is to reject our past. I know it has become politically popular to build walls to keep out the stranger. That has never been our value system; our way when we are at out best.
The value system
Both my grandmothers opened their homes to the ‘stranger’ and made them ‘family’. My parents opened our home to a cousin from Tobago who lived with us like a sister. We had an aunt from Guyana who lived with us for a while although there were no blood ties. This was the genius of our foreparents. It was a value system built on hospitality—welcoming the stranger.
It was not that they had money or excess. In all these cases resources were very scarce, but they found a way to share out of the little they had and this built character and trust in God. In a classic calypso called, ‘Poverty Is Hell’, Shadow says:
Ten little children, four dumplings
Mummy got to slice them thin, thin, thin
A piece for a boy and a piece for a girl
A piece for the neighbour daughter Merle
This generosity in the face of scarcity was a saving grace for Trinidad and Tobago and the entire Caribbean. We have more than any generation of Trinbagonian, yet we are afraid to share with our neighbours who are in great need.
Our right actions today will bless us, and the generations who come after us.
Key Message: We are a hospitable welcoming people. Let us live our true values in facing our current social challenges.
Action Step: Pray for all the migrants and refugees in our country and your parish. Reach out through your parish to assist in welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees into your parish and our Country.
Scripture passage: Matthew 25: 31– 46